Georgie had known all along that it was bound to lead to trouble, having Mr Adamant go off to investigate dastardly doings at the Women’s Institute Village Gala at Little Winkleigh. If Mr Adamant had a weakness, it was in failing to see exactly how villainous a lady could be, so what was he supposed to do up against a whole marquee or six of them? It had therefore obviously been Georgie’s duty to completely ignore Adam’s stern instructions to go home and under no circumstances whatsoever to follow him and Simms to Little Winkleigh. So, she had been hanging around helping with the tombola all morning, in between keeping a sharp eye and ear out for any dodgy goings-on and people likely to be a threat to Mr Adamant. The gala was part of a two-day village anniversary event, and Mr Adamant hadn’t been sure which day the villains meant to strike their blow. Or what exactly they were going to do, so any information could prove vital.
What was more, Georgie had finally been proved right in her decision to come and was now wishing she hadn’t been: Mr Adamant had gone into the parish hall at least forty minutes ago, and he hadn’t come out again, while in the meantime, there had been a sort of muffled bang from that direction. The vicar had claimed it must have been the after tremor of an earthquake when the things fell off the bric-a-brac stall next to her, but Georgie knew better. It meant trouble and it was up to her to dash to the rescue and pray that she wasn’t too late!
Having failed to find anyone but a few Cubs, the organist, and the caretaker upstairs, Georgie ventured down into the cellar beneath, ignoring the large, handwritten KEEP OUT! UNSAFE! sign on the door. She had picked up a torch from one of the caretaker’s cupboards and shone it around as she descended the staircase into murky darkness.
There was a worrying silence in response, and then an indistinct sound of a combined sort of scrambling and squelching. “Miss Jones? Is that you?” said Adam, which immediately caused her spirits to rise in relief. “I suppose it would be. Did you not recall that I told you on no account to come anywhere near this gala?”
“Surprise?” she said with an apologetic grin, and hurried on down the steps, much more confident now that she knew he was still alive and as disapproving as ever. “You’re not hurt, are you? Adam?”
“Of course not,” he said. “Only – Miss Jones! Please – come no further, on pain of your life!”
Georgie froze immediately. “What is it?” she asked, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Booby traps or something?”
“Ah, no,” said Adam, sounding unusually uncomfortable. “It’s merely that – well –”
Georgie screwed up her face. “Where are you? I can’t see you.” She swung the torch around the cellar wildly. She could see lots of strange contraptions and a sort of big vat in the centre, plus lots of debris where a wall had once been, but there was no sign of any debonair Edwardian adventurers. It also smelt vaguely of burnt sugar and vanilla.
“For which I am profoundly thankful,” said Adam, “and so should you be. The truth is, Miss Jones, that I – ah.” He halted and gave a cough. “That is to say, I seem to find myself in an embarrassing situation. I am currently somewhat lacking in a sufficient amount of clothes to cover myself in a satisfactory manner.”
“Zoinks,” Georgie said, and then wondered if only he meant he’d lost his jacket or his shoes or something. You never knew with Victorians. She didn’t find the prospect of semi-naked Adam as alarming as he seemed to think she ought to, so she carried on with her descent, although once she had reached the bottom, she directed the torch down at her feet, so that he could stop panicking in case she saw his elbow or his knee or some other equally shocking part of his anatomy. She had to stifle a giggle at the idea. “How did it happen?”
Mr Adamant cleared his throat. “I had gathered from my investigations that the giant Madeira cake that was to be one of the highlights of tomorrow’s events was intended to contain an explosive device. The foul deed, it transpired, was to be done by exchanging one such cake for another – they were about to bake the second even as I got here. However, despite the fact that I was at that point most inconveniently knocked out by –”
“Don’t tell me. Lady P, who you said couldn’t possibly be –”
“Gerald the handyman,” continued Adam in his most repressive tones. “When I came round, I found myself bound, while that trio of blackguards – Gerald, the verger, and Lady Persimmon, who I am sure was indeed being forced into such vile actions against her will –”
“Obviously,” said Georgie. “It couldn’t have been anything else. But how on earth did you lose your clothes? Did they steal them to stop you getting away?”
“Miss Jones, if you would stop interrupting me, I would have explained in full by now. Having come round, I found the three of them had begun arguing amongst themselves over the precise timing of the affair. I did not have a clear enough view of what passed between them, but it resulted in a premature explosion, which put a permanent end to their plans. It very nearly put an end to me too – indeed would have, had I not been thrown clear into the vat of cake batter behind me. I am merely slightly singed at the edges, but my suit was not so fortunate.”
Georgie shone her torch at the hole in the wall and shuddered at the idea of Adam being blown to bits, before she could get to him and rescue him. She knew she should have bribed that Girl Guide into taking on the tombola at least half an hour ago! Belatedly, however, her mind began to catch up with the rest of his statement and she had to stop and blink a bit.
“So… you’ve got hardly any clothes on and you’re covered in Madeira cake mixture?” It was the sort of thing a girl needed to get clear in her mind.
“To my acute embarrassment and – given the alternative – relief, yes,” said Adam. “A variety of items to be used as toppings seem to have fallen in with me, along with some icing sugar, dust and mortar.”
Georgie swallowed. “Gosh,” she said, but still didn’t laugh. She felt she deserved a medal for it, but, after all, Mr Adamant had nearly been killed and he freaked out enough about people in swimwear, let alone being covered in cake mixture while his clothes had been burnt or blown right off him, so she had to try and be kind. “Sort of boom – kersplat?”
“Yes, quite,” said Adam. “Now, Miss Jones, would you be so good as to see if you could find me some suitable attire? A basin of water and some soap would also be exceedingly welcome. Good grief,” he added, “this whole business is appalling!”
“Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure the Council people left some spare overalls upstairs,” she said. “I’ll run up and nab you one. I can manage the rest, too, easy – maybe even a towel as well.” She paused. “Are you still tied up? Do you need me to come and give you a hand?”
“No! Absolutely not! Ah, that is to say, I am nearly free of my bonds already,” said Adam, as if he found the idea of Georgie getting anywhere near him in this state much more hair-raising than a posse of villains threatening to blow up the Mayor of Little Winkleigh. He probably did. Mr Adamant was very odd like that. “The blast loosened them considerably. However, if you can indeed fetch me those articles, I will this once be in your debt.”
Georgie nodded. “Okay, okay, I’m going!” She bit back a grin. “Keep your Brazil nuts on!”
“Miss Jones!” His horrified reproach chased her up the stairs back into the parish hall.
Simms blinked a bit on seeing Mr Adamant dressed in a workman’s overalls when he and Georgie rejoined him outside. “Some sort of disguise, sir?” he said. “And Miss Jones. What an unpleasant surprise, if one can call it a surprise at this point.”
Georgie nodded, crossing her fingers. “A disguise, yes. Absolutely!”
“Simms,” said Adam, who had entirely recovered his composure now he was again fully dressed and lacking in all but a few last tell-tale remnants of cake mixture. “I must apologise for having dragged you down here. It has been a most ignominious affair – and one that barely even needed my intervention, as it transpired.”
Simms looked surprised. “Oh, I wouldn’t say ignominious, sir. I took First Prize in the Victoria sponges and came fourth with my fruit scones, although I reckon that was only because that Lady Persimmon was cheating.”
“If that is so,” said Adam gallantly, “then all was not lost, after all. Congratulations, Simms! A worthy victory, I am sure.”
“Hear, hear!” Georgie added. “What was your prize? I hope it was something groovy. And you did remember to get me some chocolate cake, didn’t you? You promised, and I’m starving!”
“I promised to bring you back some if you stayed out of Mr Adamant’s way,” said Simms. “Which you didn’t, since here you are again.”
Adam turned slightly pale. “More cake?” he said almost faintly. “Must you?” He walked on, leaving Simms to turn to Georgie in puzzlement, although he also passed her a generous slice of cake in a paper bag, despite his words.
“What’s got into him?”
Georgie shook her head. She would have dearly loved to have heard Simms’s reaction to the tale, but she had promised Mr Adamant never to breathe a word of it and she did at least try and keep her promises. She opened up the bag and stuffed chocolate cake into her mouth instead. “Can’t,” she said with her mouth full. “Scout’s honour and all that.”
“And, knowing you,” said Simms, with affectionate loathing, “you probably did get into the Scouts, didn’t you? You always turn up where you’re not supposed to be.”
Georgie laughed and swallowed her cake. “I’ll have you know,” she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, “that if it hadn’t have been for me, Mr Adamant would have been left in a very sticky situation, possibly the worst he’s ever been in, so you should both be glad I didn’t stay home. So, there!”
“Miss Jones,” said Simms, suddenly, with an eye to Adam’s fast-disappearing figure in the distance, “I think we’re being left behind…”